How is it possible that one man can fly around the world in one night and deliver gifts to all of the little boys and girls in the world? It just isn’t possible, OK?
Listen, I’m not being a Scrooge. I’m just saying that one man can’t do it all. Santa Claus has help from his fellow men —and women— around the world. As a child, I received this explanation because I had two Santas (it’s ok to be jealous). As an American kid, I had Santa Claus, a man who shimmied down my chimney in the wee morning hours of December 25th. But I also had my German Christkind.
My Oma, German for grandmother, was born in Bavaria and she kept many old country traditions alive while we were growing up —Weihnachten (Christmas) being the most prominent. Every Christmas Eve, we had a bona fide German Christmas at my grandmother’s house. There was a big German feast of Spaetzle, Sauerbraten and Blaukraut. Of course, being in New Orleans, there was also jambalaya on the table. After dinner, we would walk back into my grandmother’s warm house, and it was there we would notice gold packages which now sat below the tree. Christkind had arrived!
Christkind, or Christ Child, was the angel present at the birth of Jesus, and she is a young girl who brings presents to good Bavarian children on Christmas Eve —a few other European countries recognize Christkind as well. Christkind isn’t the only woman gift-bringer; many other countries recognize female St. Nicks. Here a few you should know about.
There are several gift-givers in Germany, according to various folk traditions, from a strict St. Nick with mean helpers, to Christkind. A red suit and bearded Santa Claus is widely recognized in modern Germany, but Christkind is honored at German Christkindl markets, or Christmas markets. At the markets, Christkind is often portrayed by a teenage girl with golden curls wearing a long white robe.
St. Lucia’s Day (or St. Lucy’s Day) in Sweden is one of the country’s biggest celebrations. The holiday, on December 13, honors St. Lucia, a young girl who was killed for her faith in Italy. In Sweden, St. Lucia is depicted as a young woman with candles on her head. Her name “Lucy” means light. And, on the winter solstice holiday, girls dress like St. Lucia with candle and berry headdresses.
St. Lucia brings gifts to children in Northern Italy during the night of December 12, or early morning on December 13. Instead of reindeer, she has a donkey as her steed. Children leave coffee for Lucia and bread for the donkey, Castaldo.
St Lucia’s Day is also observed in Denmark, Norway, Finland, Sicily, Bosnia and Croatia.
In Italy, on the eve of Epiphany on January 6th, the old woman La Befana brings candy and toys to the good children and onions and garlic to the naughty ones. But perhaps the most interesting thing about Befana is that she arrives on broomstick.
Legend has it that the Wise Men asked Befana for directions just a few days before Jesus was born. Befana, a housekeeper, didn’t know this, and provided the men with shelter. Before they left, the Magi invited Befana to join them, but she said she was “too busy with her housework.” Befana later had a change of heart but could not find the wise men or Jesus. To this day, she searches, via broom, for baby Jesus.